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European Commission Member to use Telco 2.0 Industry Brainstorm to Test Regulatory Framework Ideas

I had a very interesting call yesterday with one of the speakers at the Telco 2.0 Industry Brainstorm we are organising for October 4/5. Ken Ducatel is a member of Viviane Reding’s cabinet, which has overall responsibility for policies and regulation relating to Information Society and Media in Europe.

The Commissioner has recently kicked off a review of the regulatory framework for electronic communications and network services. This is a wide-ranging look at how regulation is used to promote open and competitive markets as technological and competitive environments are changing. In other words, how should the Commission regulate in a Telco 2.0 world?

The draft proposals are open to public consultation until October 27th meaning that Ken can use our debate on October 4th and 5th to test a range of ideas with the Telco community. In November and December, the recommended changes will be developed by the Commissioner’s team.

Ken explained that the timing for these regulatory changes is critical. Viviane Reding and her team effectively have one bite at the cherry to get this right because major regulatory change in Telecoms will not be back on the agenda for a significant time. He recognises the delicate nature of regulating during this time of change and particularly indicated that the Commission is keen to neither “kill incumbent investment in access networks nor new competitors investing in access technologies”.

Another key point he noted was the huge range in views about regulation among Telco’s, particularly among Incumbent operators (who have the most to lose through regulation). He cited BT and OfCom as being the most progressive, but said that the Commission has problems with some Incumbent operators and national regulators that are ‘overly supportive’ of the status quo position. In other words, there is too much protection going on in some markets (I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions).

Ken is keen to test some ideas at the Industry brainstorm and debate these with informed, senior Telco management. Some ideas he mentioned include:

  1. Forcing separation of the Telco layers (ie network and service) รก la BT in the UK;
  2. Tweaking rules relating to the powers of National Regulators and how they implement changes in their national markets;
  3. Experimenting with options to allow for different regulations dependent on market conditions (e.g. between rural and urban locations).

In keeping with his boss, Ken is looking to put some strong (and hopefully controversial) ideas forward at the brainstorm. Should be a good debate.

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The general feeling regarding the Commission's proposals for reviewing the Telecoms Package is that, whilst they have proposed anything as dangerous as the mobile roaming regulations or Television without Frontiers, it does seem to be about the centralisation of decision making towards Brussels (i.e. his 2nd point) and away from national regulatory authorities - something they can expect to find strong resistance against considering Brussel's past record on decision making.

Quite what the worth of debating some of these more 'far flung' ideas is questionable anyway; whilst the Commission haven't tabled their final proposal (December), their 'Working Document' of what you could call proposed proposals, does not outline any ideas similar to the points he outlined above - so if they did then find their way into the final proposal, a lot of industry people might be quite surprised to say the least.

At least we can now know where a lot of the bizarre ideas that were contained in Reding's speech to BITKOM came from; ironically enough these ideas were all firmly rejected within the Commission's own regulatory impact assessment that came with the actual proposals!

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